This week Sallyanne Clarke told how she had received hate mail following her son’s death. Andrew Clarke was 16 when he died by suicide. Toxicology tests showed traces of cocaine and benzodiazepines in his system at the time of his death. One anonymous letter writer said she had obviously abandonded her son and maybe Andrew had just wanted to get away from her. This begs the question, does speaking out publicly by a grieving family give permission for a ‘no holds barred’ debate?
I can empathise with the Clarkes. I have received plenty of hate mail following Shane’s death; I thought I was the only one. I’ve had a fair few Tom, Dick and Harrys who’ve insisted on telling me why I’m delusional and why they know better than I. One person thought it was for my own good, ‘cruel to be kind’ he said. After all, hadn’t I put myself ‘out there for debate‘. You eventually get used to the nastiness, at least I did, and that awful feeling following each ‘cruel to be kind’ correspondence lessens over time.
Since when did putting yourself out there for debate equate to agreeing to a ‘free for all’ though? I can honestly say that the worst experience I’ve had was with TV3 Television Network Ltd, when I agreed to take part in a documentary concerning my son’s death. I felt trampled on, exploited and further traumatised by TV3’s callous attitude and blatant lies.
The documentary itself wasn’t an issue, I was happy enough once Professor David Healy was given the opportunity to speak. Despite his opinion that we were marching into a stitch-up, he did the interview and has since said that he ‘remains happy to engage with Vincent Browne properly‘. My main issue was the promises I was given all the way through, that we would be fully informed. While I tentatively agreed to take part, it was on the condition that I could see the documentary before it aired and retract ‘all or part’ of my participation if I felt it necessary. When I saw a TV3 tweet publicising the upcoming documentary, which showed footage of my son that I had never seen, I retracted my permission and said I wanted my part taken out. The idea that footage of my son’s last night alive (which I didn’t know existed) could be shown for the amusement of viewers without warning or showing me first, still astounds me. TV3 went ahead and aired the documentary, ignoring my retraction.
Following the documentary I wrote to TV3 and Vincent Browne expressing my disappointment, which they ignored. I then contacted the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI), using the complaints procedure. The BAI, as is usual, referred my complaint back to TV3. The initial niceties and pretence at sympathy by TV3 quickly turned into what I can only describe as a bitter tirade of vitriol, attacking me personally. It seemed I deserved everything I got and sure shouldn’t I be thankful that TV3 didn’t do a reconstruction with ‘knives and blood’ (TV3’s words, not mine).
This week I received the BAI decision which upheld the majority of my complaint. It states that TV3 will now be requested ‘to air the BAI committee’s statement’ – an apology of sorts. Was it worth it? Hell no! It still amazes me that I had to go to all that effort to squeeze it out of them, to acknowledge wrongdoing. TV3 are supposed to be professional, with legal teams employed to go over every minute detail, and yet they thought they were perfectly entitled to trample all over my family’s feelings.
The BAI committee found that TV3 did not demonstrate due care towards me, did not sufficiently inform me of the contents of the programme, did not fully meet the terms agreed beforehand and potentially misled viewers by referring to my son’s letters as a journal.
I have to admit I was shocked and disgusted by the way I was treated by TV3 and by Vincent Browne’s producer. Having survived Shane’s death, albeit through 5 years of shellshock, I feel I’ve been fairly toughened up. From Jim Cusack (a week after my son’s death) writing in the Independent that Shane was a working class boy trying to ingratiate himself into the ‘middle classes’ with a girlfriend ‘above his station’, to (on the day of his funeral) Catholic priest Father Fergus O’Donoghue who said he was just ‘plain evil’.
So yes, I’m fairly used to ignorant bullies being ‘cruel to be kind’ but some things are just plain wrong, and I never agreed to a ‘free for all’, particulary not with TV3.